When you’re looking to land your first job, there are several things (like a polished résumé and professional LinkedIn profile) that can help you instantly stand out from the crowd of candidates. But what about your references?
It’s common for employers to request references from your past professors, mentors, or managers. Sometimes, including a referrer’s email or daytime phone number might be enough, but the employer may also request a personal recommendation letter with concrete details about your skills and experience.
While the standard practice is for your professor or former manager to write the letter themselves, it’s becoming more typical for time-strapped individuals to ask you to draw up the first draft.
That’s right—it’s perfectly acceptable in the world of job references to pen a recommendation letter for yourself. You can share it with your referrer once they agree to be your reference, which takes the heavy lifting off of them.
Your referrer of choice can then quickly customize or update it as they see fit (or, if done well, they might just sign off on it as is!). This is a great opportunity to highlight your most relevant achievements as they directly apply to the job position at hand.
Here’s what to remember when writing a strong reference letter for yourself.
Have a clear format
The draft should follow the style of a traditional, formal letter template. Think of the letter as a short essay with an introduction and “thesis statement,” supporting anecdotes and examples, and an enthusiastic conclusion.
Remember: You’re not writing in your own voice. You’re writing as your referrer, so you want to keep it straightforward and professional. Proofreading is key! Using a tool like Grammarly will help ensure your grammar is impeccable, which will also underscore your competence to your referrer.
State the purpose and your relationship
Start off by including a clear statement of support, along with the capacity in which the referrer knows you. Include specifics (such as the course/class you took or the place you worked and the length of your acquaintance) that show how well they know you and your work.
Example: It is my pleasure to recommend Holden Caulfield for the position of Brand Developer at XYZ company. I have known Holden for four years, and during that time he was my student and research assistant for my marketing course.
Outline your strengths, abilities, and skills
Choose several strengths or skills you want to highlight that are directly applicable to the position you’re applying for. The bulk of the letter should illuminate these strengths through anecdotes and specific examples. Be humble, but don’t be shy! Now is the time to underscore your best qualities in the most positive light possible.
Keep in mind that the strengths you choose to focus on should be ones that your referrer could attest to; your professor isn’t the right person to talk about your level of responsibility as exemplified by your lifeguarding job, but they could probably touch on your involvement in the student government.
At least one of the skills you discuss should be tied to your experience with the referrer. If you’re highlighting your time-management skills, for example, you might say: Holden is also an adept self-starter and effective at time management, often turning in well-developed essays before any other student in the class.
Summarize and conclude
Lastly, wrap up the letter by providing a brief summary of the points you made and reflecting on some of your personal attributes. Then, if your referrer gives you permission, you can end with their contact information and include a formal sign-off.
Example: Holden has proven to be a dependable leader in the classroom with a passion for learning and sharing ideas. Should you wish to inquire further about his qualifications, please feel free to contact me at [email address] or [phone number].
By putting in sincere effort to crafting your letter, your potential employer will see you in your best light. And, your referrer will most likely thank you for saving them time, so it’s really a win-win. Go ahead—this is your one chance to humblebrag with abandon!